What does the ending of the story "The Yellow Wallpaper" suggest about the woman behind the wallpaper?

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On a feminist reading, one could say that the ending of the story suggests that the unnamed narrator has so identified with the struggling woman behind the wallpaper that she has come to identify herself with the condition of women as a whole.

The woman in the wallpaper, desperately trying...

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On a feminist reading, one could say that the ending of the story suggests that the unnamed narrator has so identified with the struggling woman behind the wallpaper that she has come to identify herself with the condition of women as a whole.

The woman in the wallpaper, desperately trying to escape from the bars that imprison her, represents the plight of women in a patriarchal society. The unnamed narrator, patronized and belittled by her husband and confined to a small bedroom, has come to identify with the struggle of her sisters as they are stifled and constrained in their daily lives by the patriarchy.

But as the narrator lives at a time when there is no real outlet for respectable middle-class women to express their frustrations, she goes out of her mind, blurring the distinction between herself and the woman in the yellow wallpaper. Indeed, in some respects, the woman in the wallpaper is the narrator, albeit a projection of her tortured psyche.

The narrator's terrible realization that she too is trapped brings home to her just how hollow her existence is. Ordinarily, this would be bad enough. But because she has nowhere else to go, she cannot escape from this terrible condition except by descending into madness.

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At the end of the story, John manages to finally open the door to the upstairs room and discovers that his mentally unstable wife is crawling on the floor in a creepy, unrecognizable manner. Before John faints, his wife says,

I've got out at last...in spite of you and Jane! And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back! (Gilman, 10).

The narrator's comments and odd behavior suggest that the woman behind the yellow wallpaper was a reflection of herself. The woman behind the yellow wallpaper represents the narrator's repressed life and is a manifestation of her mental illness, which is a result of her postpartum depression and the "rest cure" that her husband subscribes to. Throughout the story, the narrator slowly descends into madness as she struggles to exercise her personal agency under her husband's oppressive control. John refuses to allow his wife to write, exercise, or socialize with others while insisting that she remain cooped up in the upstairs room. She begins seeing the image of a woman imprisoned in the wallpaper, which turns out to be an accurate reflection of herself.

Similar to the woman behind the wallpaper, the narrator cannot escape the upper room, lacks control over her life, and cannot express her individuality. By the end of the story, the narrator has completely lost touch with reality and has descended into madness. Her mental insanity is directly related to her suppressed feelings, lack of independence, and the unhealthy "rest cure" treatment, which has enhanced her isolation and significantly contributed to her depression.

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The woman in the wallpaper is the narrator.  This notion is revealed at the end of the story and it explains the role of women during the time period.  The narrator feels like her identity is slipping away and, like the woman, she will fade away into the wallpaper.  The entire story builds up to the moment when this idea is revealed.  The irony is that those in the story who need to understand, like the husband and sister, do not.  The narrator tries to free herself from this dungeon by meticulously peeling off the wallpaper, but her efforts are viewed as madness instead of triumph.  Gilman beautifully structures the story so that the reader is privy to all sides; therefore, giving us the great opportunity to pull more from the story than the other characters.  It also gives us a slight glimpse into the life of Gilman herself.

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The woman behind the wallpaper emerges at the end of the story and is revealed as the narrator herself. Throughout the story, we have seen the narrator descend in to madness exacerbated by her solitary confinement. It is deeply ironic that her husband has fashioned this seeming prison for her based on his medical expertise, and is unconvinced of her mental decline.

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression--a slight hysterical tendency--what is one to do?

It is her husband whose prostate form she walks over at the end of the story.

"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

The woman behind the wallpaper has proved her existence in the mind of the narrator, and has therefore proved the narrator correct in the diagnosis of her own insanity.

 

 

 

 

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The ending of the short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," suggests that the woman has, in her mind, become the woman in the wallpaper.  When she cannot fully remove the wallpaper from the wall and set her free, she becomes her and is thereby set free herself.

The narrator sees herself in an identical position as the woman in the wallpaper, anyway.  They are both trapped and imprisoned with no way of escape.  The narrator, throughout the story, projects her situation onto the wallpaper print, and becomes obsessed with setting the woman she perceives in the wallpaper free. 

When she cannot, she becomes her.  In her words:

I wonder if they [women outside of her room] all came out of that wallpaper as I did?

and

I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!

Having begun the narration with what we today call post-partum depression, the woman closes her story completely identifying herself with the woman in the wallpaper. 

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